BLURB: The lead homicide investigator in a rural town, Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock is deeply unnerved when a high school classmate is found strangled, her body floating in a lake. And not just any classmate, but Rosalind Ryan, whose beauty and inscrutability exerted a magnetic pull on Smithson High School, first during Rosalind’s student years and then again when she returned to teach drama. As much as Rosalind’s life was a mystery to Gemma when they were students together, her death presents even more of a puzzle. What made Rosalind quit her teaching job in Sydney and return to her hometown? Why did she live in a small, run-down apartment when her father was one of the town’s richest men? And despite her many admirers, did anyone in the town truly know her? Rosalind’s enigmas frustrate and obsess Gemma, who has her own dangerous secrets—an affair with her colleague and past tragedies that may not stay in the past.
We meet Gemma Woodstock when she is in a bad place, personally. She lives with Scott, the father of her three-year-old son, yet she does not love him. She has just suffered a miscarriage of a baby conceived with her married lover and police partner, Felix McKinnon. And… she has never recovered from the suicide death of her first love, Jacob.
“I felt the deep guilt of someone who wished for a different life.”
Now, an old schoolmate/nemesis of Gemma’s is found dead in the lake backing on the high school. A jogger found the body lying near the shore – covered in long-stem red roses. The woman, Rosalind Ryan, was a well-liked teacher at the high school. She was, and had always been stunningly beautiful…
“I knew how far in I was again, how comprehensively her death could undo me.”
Gemma and Felix are tasked with the homicide investigation. Gemma makes light of her previous associations with the dead woman so that her boss will allow her to work on the murder inquiry. Secrets. Secrets. Secrets. Who would have wanted to murder Rosalind Ryan? Was it someone at the school – a teacher, a student? Could Jacob’s younger brother be in some way involved? Could it have been one of Rosalind’s wealthy family members? As Gemma and Felix investigate, Gemma becomes more and more morose. She is revisiting her past. A past when she, Rosalind, and Jacob were part of a love triangle.
Gemma receives a bouquet of red roses at her home. The card reads “Beautiful things are hard to keep alive“. Then, the case becomes even more personal when her tiny son is kidnapped… The setting of this novel played a huge part in the story. The small town of Smithson, New South Wales, in December. The lead up to Christmas – and they are suffering a real heat spell. Smithson is a factory town. The local cannery employs most of the residents. Gemma Woodstock is a very interesting, very flawed character. She lost her mother suddenly at the age of thirteen. Then, when she was only seventeen, her boyfriend Jacob commit suicide. These were both traumas that have affected her every waking moment. I usually like damaged characters, yet, despite my wanting to care for her more, I found that something about Gemma was ‘off’. I can’t quite put my finger on why I feel this way.
The writing was spectacular and the book did not read like the debut novel it is. The characters were written with empathy and the imagery was such that the heat was palpable. The murder mystery was well executed, with a resolution that made sense.
In summation, I do recommend this novel. I feel that it will be a favourite of many. There was just something that for me personally, made it a 4-star read. I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from Grand Central Publishing via Edelweiss. This review is my small way of saying thank-you.Sarah Bailey lives in Melbourne, Australia. She has two young sons and one very old cat. She currently works as a director of creative projects company Mr Smith. Over the past five years she has written a number of short stories and opinion pieces. The Dark Lake is her first novel. She has recently released the sequel to The Dark Lake called Into the Night.
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